When you played such a huge part in the early ’00s downtempo boom, it might be tempting to simply dine out on that sure thing rather than continue to innovate. Bonobo’s seventh studio album, ‘Fragments’, seems to crave that easier path. It’s certainly more interesting than the by-numbers ‘Migration’ but it still feels like Simon Green is stuck in a locked groove. Signature soundscapes become the primary focus, rather than self-referential motifs. Opener ‘Polyghost’, for instance, feels like it could’ve been an offcut from any of his 2010s albums with its lilting harps and creeping ambient atmosphere. As with every Bonobo record, though, it still makes for a pleasant experience. Forgettable, sure, but Simon’s skills as a producer are never in question. ‘Fragments’ is full of beautiful background textures to soundtrack other things: dinner parties, club night closing time, sunrise DJ sets. His choice of vocalists is as strong as ever too. Jordan Rakei’s ghostly croon is a perfect fit for the ethereal four-to-the-floor beat of ‘Shadows’. Kadjha Bonet’s appearance on closer ‘Day by Day’, meanwhile, feels like a warm breeze. But when you want something with more heft, it’s a record that’s lacking. When that heft does roll around, it feels like a welcome slap to the face. ‘Otomo’ is a case of collaboration breeding great ideas. A relentless, dizzying slice of IDM, with harsh metallic clanking paired with stunning choral samples, this partnership with O’Flynn is as far away from a dinner party as you can get. With ‘Fragments’, Bonobo is as listenable as ever. But this locked groove is one he seems too comfortable in. Once you hear where he can go, there’s a frustrating desire to see him latch on to that fragment of himself rather than the familiar.
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